By Tiffany Chek
Touted as the happiest place on earth, it’s easy to see why (just don’t tell Disney). Everywhere you go you will hear Ticos (what Costa Ricans call themselves) exclaim ‘Pura Vida’! It literally means ‘Pure Life’ but is used to express everything from good morning, have a good day, thank you and you’re welcome. It’s a kind of mantra that by the end of your holiday, you won’t even realise you have adopted.
Costa Rica however, is definitely the place for nature lovers. If you are after a big city with haute cuisine, museums and art galleries then this is not the place for you. Costa Rica is all about the outdoors with stunning scenery, beautiful beaches and an abundance of wildlife. It’s equally a great place for those with special interests such as bird watching, surfing, or big game fishing as well as those just wanting to experience the natural beauty of the country. I was lucky enough to follow our Costa Rica Panorama itinerary which gives a great introduction to this stunning destination.
After an overnight stay in the capital San Jose, the first stop is Tortuguero where the jungle meets the sea. If you have ever been to the Amazon, then this is a very similar jungle experience. The main difference being that on one side is the jungle and on the other side is the ocean! So in turtle nesting season you can either see turtles laying eggs or little turtle hatchlings making a run for their lives. This is what you won’t see in the Amazon.
Next stop was Arenal, famous for its volcano and thermal hot springs. The volcano itself offers amazing scenery (when not shrouded in cloud) and great hiking and horseback riding. There are also a lot of adrenaline activities such as zip lining and hanging bridges, but since Monte Verde (our next stop) is more famous for this I decided to save my energy for then. Most people In Arenal opt for a volcano hike followed by a soothing soak in one of the numerous thermal hot springs, with several hotels having their own thermal water pools on their grounds.
The road to Monte Verde was long and winding and ‘con mucho bumpy’ as the taxi driver we had the night before accurately described. Monte Verde is located in a cloud forest so is elevated and misty with romantic views. As mentioned, it’s famous for its hanging bridges suspended amongst the forest canopy, and is home to the longest zip line in Latin America. I am by no means an adrenaline junkie, but when in Rome…
There are three main adventure parks that everyone tries to sell you – the family friendly ‘Sky Adventures’ park, ‘Selvatura’ and ‘Aventura’. We opted for Selvatura as they had the highest hanging bridges and a 1km zip line. Aventura on the other hand boasted the longest zip line at just under 2km. But I totally agreed with the tour desk operator that ‘1km was more than enough’.
I wasn’t sure how I would go, but the zip lines are actually a series of about 12 individual sections, with some small ones to get you into the swing of things – and by the time you get to the 1km zip line section you are a pro. It’s an amazing feeling whizzing high above the tree tops and a great experience for everyone, both young and old.
The last stop on our itinerary was Manual Antonio which if I was pushed to say, was my favourite. We stayed at the Parador Resort and Spa and the views were amazing. The hotel grounds itself were home to monkeys, toucans and a resident sloth! The main highlight of course was the National Park. The hotel offered a free shuttle and you can pick up a guide outside the ticket office or it was easily navigated on your own – although without a guide it was probably harder to spot a sleeping sloth. Nevertheless we still managed to spot several on our own. I really envy the sloth… they look so happy and so, so lazy.
The park was a little crowded but it did not detract from the experience. Make sure to bring your swimmers to take a refreshing dip at one of the beautiful beaches but take care of your belongings… the raccoons (yes there were beach raccoons) and cheeky Capuchin monkeys were quick to take action if there was even a hint of food! The warnings not to bring food into the park now made sense. It only took two seconds for a monkey to run down the tree, rifle though one unsuspecting woman’s bag, find some chips and devour the whole bag in a tree. You can only bring in sandwiches or cut fruit and no junk food – I guess they don’t want the monkeys eating too unhealthily!
I never made it as far down as the Osa Peninsula but believe it is even more beautiful than Manual Antonio and not as crowded, so if you have more time then I really recommend to add to your trip.
I also recommend splurging a little and staying at some nicer hotels than you would normally. By upgrading your hotel or room type you can take advantage of some magnificent views, and Costa Rica is a place where the hotel can add to your experience rather than just being a place to sleep. Many of the hotels themselves had walking trails and wildlife or in the case of Arenal – thermal springs on their grounds.
Other points to be aware of are that Costa Rica is not as cheap as people would expect, and prices are not too dissimilar to Australia. US Dollars are also readily accepted so no need to change money into the local currency. Also, be prepared to eat a lot of ‘Pinto’ (rice and beans) and a plantain thrown in for good measure. However as I mentioned before, you don’t come here for the food. But the most important thing of all ‘Pura Vida’!!
What is the Best Time of Year to Visit Costa Rica?
While Costa Rica benefits from a pleasant tropical climate year round, the dry season is the most pleasant time to visit. The dry season runs from December to April and low season is typically May to October. Other main considerations are that it can be very cold in areas of high elevation. Land along the Caribbean coast is susceptible to hurricanes between June to November, particularly during October and November. Please contact us to discuss in more detail.
You can see the Costa Rica tours we offer here.If you want to find out more about the destinations in this article, or have any questions in general please contact us.